The Prime Minister recently announced that a regulation on conversion to Islam would soon be introduced (The Star, 11/4/08). To prevent problems arising from disputing the religious status of a deceased person, he suggested that would-be converts first inform their families before converting to Islam.
The announcement, lauded by some, has drawn different responses from various quarters. Both MCCBCHST and CCM wanted the would-be converts to provide documented proof that their families have been informed at the point of conversion.
The Bar Council has rightly pointed out that this is only one of the many issues faced by a non-converting spouse. In many cases, the deceased did not appear to their families to be practising Muslims when they were alive despite claims from the religious authorities. Some had long renounced Islam even though they did not have an "exit order" as proof. Others were mistakenly identified as Muslims because of the confusion in names or technical glitches at the Registration Department. Hence, the issue cannot be resolved by just a pre-conversion notification.
We must not forget that the Federal Court had, in Subashini's case, allowed unilateral conversion of the children by the Muslim spouse, disregarding Subashini's rights as a mother and the fact that the minors were born from a civil marriage.
Notwithstanding the fact that Islam, unlike other faiths, is a legislated religion, there is still the question of infringing the religious freedom provision in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. Profession of faith is primarily a personal choice and involves freedom of conscience. We therefore continue to call for an easy access for those who desire to return to their original faith.
Having said that, NECF Malaysia commends the Government for making the effort to resolve the long-drawn problem. While we are not clear of the administrative process of the Government's proposal, we wish to reiterate that:
1. All matters pertaining to a marriage that is solemnized under the civil law (e.g. inheritance, custody, religious status of minor, etc.) are in the jurisdiction of the civil courts and subject only to civil law. The religious status of a minor must be determined by both parents.
2. The civil courts must be the final arbiter as long as one party involved in a legal entanglement is a non-Muslim person.
3. A person who reaches the age of majority has the absolute right to choose the religion of his choice. Any law on conversion must permit reversion to one's original faith with equal facility.